IHRA - Milan

IHRA Suzuki Motor City Nationals
Milan, Michigan

By Bobby Bennett & Brian Wood, Photos by Roger Richards, Brian Wood, Bobby Bennett and Bryan Epps



SUNDAY FINAL - Andrew Cowin Wins Top Fuel at Suzuki Motor City Nationals; Records first career Top Fuel victory at Milan Dragway

(7-9-2006) – All season, Andrew Cowin has talked about wanting to herd some of Scott Griffin Motorsports’ Serta Counting Sheep into the Winner’s Circle at a national event. Sunday at Milan Dragway he made shepherds everywhere proud.

Cowin (Wilmington, N.C.) collected his first career national event victory by driving theSGM/Serta Top Fuel Dragster past Bobby Lagana, Jr. (Scarsdale, N.Y.) in the final. Cowin, hired by Griffin in December of ’05, set the track speed record and qualified in the #1 position over the weekend. He laid down the quickest ET of each round en route to the Ironman victory, knocking off Bruce Litton (Indianapolis, Ind.) and Rick Cooper (Boise, Idaho) before facing Lagana in the final.

The team did not hurt a part or have to change an engine all weekend, a large change from its recent fortunes.

“The same bullets we started the race with, we ended the race with,” Cowin said. “That’s what racing is all about. We had a tremendous amount of fun this weekend and I really take my hat off to the crew. It is a team effort and everyone took care of their corner. I’ve always said if everyone got together and pulled in the same direction we would get there pretty quickly. In seven months we’ve done it.”

Cowin had to drive by Lagana in the final. Lagana had a slight advantage at the tree and was out in front at half-track, but he pushed a couple of rods out of the engine and Cowin zipped by him for the victory. Cowin posted a 4.840 at 282.95 mph to claim the victory over Lagana’s 4.945/282.19.

“This was a great weekend,” Griffin said. “It felt really good to get this one out of the way. Andrew drove great, the car ran strong and we ended up right where we wanted to be…in the Winner’s Circle.”

Gary Densham (Belleflower, Calif.) found the Winner’s Circle as well, claiming the Knoll Gas-Torco Racing Fuels Pro Nitro Funny Car Ironman by defeating Doug Kalitta (Ypsilanti, Mich.) in the final. Kalitta, currently second in NHRA Top Fuel points, borrowed his cousin Scott’s Nitro Funny Car for the weekend.

“It was kind of intimidating,” Densham said of running Kalitta in the final. “I pulled up in the staging lanes and thought about the fact that they have $100 million and they had four crew chiefs behind them with Ron Toebler, Connie Kalitta, Jim Owen and them. And I have a bunch of rag-tag guys who just love to go racing. He’s absolutely one of the best natural talents we have in drag racing, he can drive any kind of car. To beat them was amazing.”

Densham knocked off Terry Haddock (Lynwood, Wash.) in the first round and Bob Gilbertson (Charlotte, N.C.) in the semifinals to face Kalitta with the Ironman on the line. He ran a clean 5.017/300.80 pass to better Kalitta’s tire-shaking 5.712/235.76 pedal job.

“We stuck to our game plan, to just go rounds and win the race,” Densham said. “All racers always want to go faster and quicker, but you can’t beat Mother Nature. If it’s hot, it’s hot. We wanted to just go down the race track and make them beat us, just go five flat at over 300 and take our chances.”

Mike Janis (Lancaster, N.Y.) had an emotional weekend that ended with him and his team in the Winner’s Circle. The Knoll Gas-Torco Pro Mod 2004 World Champion won for the first time since his father, Joe, passed away a couple of months ago. Janis defeated Danny Rowe (Rossville, Ga.) in the final.

“I miss the guy,” Janis said of his father. “I really wanted this one bad for him and we got it. My son Mike is what keeps me going with this whole thing, he drives the whole package. When I get down he helps get me right back up.”

Janis knocked off Mike Castellana, Steve Bareman and Glen Kerunsky during the elimination rounds. He topped Rowe by posting a 6.181/231.20 compared to Rowe’s 6.200/231.48.

You probably could have gotten long odds if you would have bet, before the season, the first London, Ontario Alcohol Funny Car driver to win an Ironman during the 2006 eMax Drag Racing Series schedule would not be named Rob Atchison. Paul Noakes made that improbable scenario a reality when he knocked off Fred Tigges (Holbrook, Mass.) in the final.

After the victory Noakes wanted to thank his fellow London resident.

“Robbie does our fuel system and we couldn’t have won this without their help,” Noakes said. “This feels really good. I have been racing IHRA for 16 or 17 years and this is the first Ironman I’ve won. It’s a really good feeling.”

Noakes topped Tom Carter (Cuero, Tex.) in the first round and Atchison in the semifinals before knocking off a red-lighting Tigges with the championship on the line.

Robert Patrick (Fredericksburg, Virg.) became the answer to a trivia question when he became the first driver to take a 2007 Ford Mustang to the Winner’s Circle in IHRA competition by defeating Pete Berner. Patrick just picked up his car from Jerry Haas three races ago.

This marked the second time in 2006 that Patrick and Berner have met in the final round. Each driver is 1-1 in final round competition this year.

“Jerry builds an incredible race car,” Patrick said. “You look at the points race now and Frank (Gugliotta) and I are having a pretty good battle. This should be fun the rest of the year.”

The next event on the 2006 eMax Drag Racing Series is the IHRA Canadian Nationals, July 21 – 23, at Toronto Motorsports Park in Toronto, Ontario.